Display Kitchen

A display kitchen is where much of the food preparation is done in full view of customers. Being able to watch a busy kitchen staff at work is interesting to most of us. It whets the appetite and gives guests the feeling that they are being catered to, with a meal that is freshly prepared as they look on. For today's more refined diner, the perceptions of quality, freshness, and presentation are just as important as how the food tastes. A well functioning display kitchen also accentuates the sense of showmanship that certainly is part of the culinary arts. It enhances the total dining experience by being part of the
atmosphere and the evening's entertainment value.

It presents opportunities for the culinary staff to interact with guests. Of course, this may affect the type of person you hire as a staff member. Not everyone is good at, or comfortable with, conveying such a
"public" image. But for chefs who enjoy the limelight, something magical happens when they can see the patrons, and vice versa. One nice design detail is to install half-walls, in what is sometimes called a semi-open kitchen. The staff can be seen preparing food "from the waist up," without a view of the inevitably messy and unsightly aspects of cooking: soiled pots and pans, stacks of plates, the dirty floor, and the like. Nothing should go on in a display area that indicates any type of "volume cooking." The emphasis is on individually prepared dishes.

Food preparation in view of the guests also addresses another modern-day concern: food safety. Most guests believe that when food is prepared in full view, the staff is more conscious of safe food-handling practices than they would be rounded away at a prep station in the back of the house. Today, as the cost of restaurant space keeps climbing, there is some financial urgency behind such a multitask environment. The modern restaurateur must maximize profit per square foot of space and risks failure by using space extravagantly and having to pay the higher costs of heating, cooling, and insuring it. Combining at least part of the kitchen with the dining area is one way to conserve space.

Yet the display kitchen is generally more expensive: up to $ 360 per linear foot, compared to $ 115 for a regular back-of-house commercial kitchen. When it is in public view, everything from equipment, to walls, to preparation surfaces has to look good. A final word about display or semi-open kitchens: They should be considered as an option only when the menu and food preparation techniques actually lend them to display-pizza dough being twirled overhead, steaks being flame-broiled over an open grill, the intricacy of sushi preparation.

Appliances "on display." In terms of equipment, we've noticed massive, brick wood-burning ovens (or gas-fired counterparts) as display kitchen staples. They're not exactly portable, weighing up to 3000 pounds, but they're attractive, energy-efficient and quite functional-they can turn out a pizza in three to five minutes. Induction range tops have found their way into display kits, since they are sleeklooking, easy to clean, and speedy and energy-efficient. Induction cooking works by creating an electromagnetic field, which causes the molecules (in this case, of a pan) to move so rapidly that the pan-not the range top-heats up, in turn cooking the food inside.

The magnetic field only prompts other magnetic items (ie, metal cookware) to heat, while its ceramic surface stays cool to the touch. Not every metal pan is well suited to induction cooking, but specific, multiple metal pans are made for this purpose. Cleanup is as simple as wiping off the cooktop surface; there are no spills seeping into burners and no baked-on messes. A 2.5-kilowatt induction burner puts out the equivalent cooking power of the 20,000 BTU burner on a typical sauté range.

Yet another display kitchen requirement is the rotisserie oven or grill. We usually think of whole chickens, browning perfectly in a glass-front rotisserie cabinet, but there are now attachments that allow you to bake pasta, casseroles, fish, vegetables, and more. From countertop units no more than 30 inches wide, to floor models 6 feet in width, rotisseries may be purchased as gas-, electric-, or wood-fired. Ease of cleaning should be a consideration when choosing a rotisserie unit, because they are in view of patrons.

And finally, the cooking suite is a real boon to today's hardworking "chef on display." A cooking suite (or cooking island) is a freestanding, custom-built unit which just about any combination of kitchen equipment can be installed. Instead of a battery of heavy-duty appliances against a wall, a cooking suite allows workers to man both sides of the island (see Illustration 3-1) .It is a way to effectively concentrate the cooking activities, improving communication because appliances and personnel are centrally located.

Often a cooking suite requires less floor space than a conventional hot line, with shorter electrical and plumbing connection lines. Men that include mainly sauteed, grilled, or charbroiled items would be
well served by a cooking suite.